What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

Comparison of the ACT Test and SAT (current and new)

Category Current ACT Current SAT New SAT
Test Fee $39.50
$56.50 (with writing)
$54.50 $43.00
$54.50 (with essay test)
Total Testing Time*

*Redesigned SAT testing time subject to research
2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes for the Essay [optional]) 3 hours and 45 minutes 3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the Essay [optional])
  • ACT mathematics test (60 items, 60 minutes
  • ACT reading test (40 items, 35 minutes)
  • ACT science test (40 items, 35 minutes)
  • ACT English test (75 items, 45 minutes)
  • ACT writing test (optional; 1 prompt, 30 minutes)
  • Mathematics (54 items, 70 minutes
  • Critical Reading (67 items, 70 minutes)
  • SAT Writing Test
    • Essay (mandatory; 1 prompt, 25 minutes)
    • Multiple-Choice (49 Items, 60 minutes
  • Math (58 items, 80 minutes)
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
    • Reading Test (52 items, 65 minutes)
    • Writing and Language Test (44 Items, 35 minutes)
  • Essay (optional; 1 prompt, 50 minutes)
Important Features
  • Designed to measure academic achievement in English, mathematics, reading, and science.
  • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.
  • Includes enhanced scoring for reliable college and career planning insights:
    • STEM Score
    • ELA Score
    • Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator
    • Text Complexity Progress Indicator
  • Emphasis on general reasoning skills
  • Emphasis on vocabulary, often in limited contexts
  • Complex scoring (a point for a correct answer and a deduction for an incorrect answer; blank responses have no impact on scores)
  • Continued emphasis on reasoning.
  • Greater emphasis on the meaning of words in extended contexts and on how word choice shapes meaning, tone, and impact.
  • Scores based on the number of correct answers. No penalty for incorrect answers.

Score Reporting

*Redesigned SAT scores subject to research

  • ACT Composite Score: 1–36 (average of four test scores)
  • ACT English test: 1–36
  • ACT reading test: 1–36
  • ACT mathematics test: 1–36
  • ACT science test: 1–36
  • ACT English and writing test: 1–36
  • STEM Score: 1-36
  • ELA Score: 1-36
  • Scale ranging from 600 to 2400
  • Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Critical Reading; 200 to 800 for Mathematics; 200 to 800 for Writing
  • Essay results scaled to multiple-choice Writing
  • Scale ranging from 400 to 1600
  • Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing; 200 to 800 for Math; 2 to 8 on each of three traits for Essay
  • Essay results reported separately

Why choose the ACT?

Acceptance: The ACT is accepted by all US colleges and universities.

Test format: The ACT is and always has been a curriculum-based achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. Students frequently tell us that they feel more comfortable taking the ACT since it is directly related to what they learn in most of their high school courses. The current SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

More than an admissions exam: In addition to being a college admissions exam, the ACT includes a profile and education/career planning section to help you plan for life after high school. You will receive personalized career information and develop a comprehensive profile that tells colleges about your work in high school and future plans. You can also see your strengths and weaknesses in the subject areas tested to help direct your future education.

The personalized career planning information provided from the ACT Interest Inventory helps students evaluate their interests in various career options. The information, in combination with the interactive ACT World-of-Work Map, helps students make connections between the work world and the activities they like to do.

World-of-Work Map

Stable and trusted: ACT continues to offer its well-established and stable assessment, plus an optional writing test. ACT has made incremental improvements to enhance the ACT test, always keeping in mind the people we serve. We know the ACT has significant impact on people’s lives, so we work hard to avoid unnecessary risks that might come with large-scale changes.

Deeper understanding of readiness: In addition to the 1–36 scoring scale that colleges know and trust, ACT also provides college and career readiness indicators designed to show student achievement and preparedness in areas important to success after high school.

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Score – Represents a student’s overall performance on the science and math portions of the assessment. The ACT is the only national college admission exam to measure science skills (www.act.org/stemcondition/13/). This new STEM score helps students connect their strengths to career and study paths that they might not otherwise have considered, especially when used with their results from the ACT Interest Inventory. Click here to learn more about the ACT Interest Inventory
  • English Language Arts (ELA) Score – Combines achievement on the English, reading, and writing portions of the ACT for those who take all three sections, enabling students to see how their performance compares with others who have been identified as college ready. A student must take the optional Writing Test to receive this score. Learn more about the writing test.
  • Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator – Provides an indicator of future performance on the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate™ (ACT NCRC®), an assessment-based credential that certifies foundational work skills important for job success across industries and occupations.
  • Text Complexity Progress Indicator – Helps students understand if they are making sufficient progress toward understanding the complex texts they will encounter in college and during their careers.